Ruling expected soon in parents' suit against school board


An Anne Arundel judge could decide as early as today whether a suit challenging the Board of Education's plan for new school boundaries should go to trial.

The suit was filed by two Seven Oaks parents who contend that the citizens committee that advised the board on the plan violated Maryland's open meetings law by meeting several times in closed sessions.

In a pretrial hearing before Judge H. Chester Goudy Jr. yesterday, the school board's lawyer argued that the open meetings law should not apply to the panel, the Countywide Redistricting Committee.

"The law describes a public body as one that is created by a state statute, rule, resolution or bylaw," said P. Tyson Bennett. "This was an advisory committee, and it does not meet that definition."

Mr. Bennett also argued that the Seven Oaks residents should have sued the committee, not the board, if they believe the committee is a public body.

W. Kevin Reynolds, the lawyer representing parents Linda A. Lotz and Zoe B. Draughon, argued that the committee was a public body because each board member made appointments to the committee.

"Clearly, this committee . . . was an agency of the Board of Education, an alter ego of the board itself," Mr. Reynolds said. "Here the board has an important decision to make, and it allows the committee to go and operate behind closed doors. I doubt the board could have done this if it was meeting to discuss the issue itself."

He also noted that the board's policy requires advisory committees to hold open meetings.

At that point, Judge Goudy interrupted.

"State law says that each county board shall establish at least one advisory committee. Is that advisory committee a public body?" he asked Mr. Bennett. "What difference does it make if they appoint two committees? Which is going to be the public body? What difference does it make if they appoint 200?"

Mr. Bennett said the board adhered to the state law by creating Citizens Advisory Councils in each school, with an umbrella group to act as liaison to the board.

"Any further advisory committees would be discretionary," he said.

Under the redistricting committee's plan, and the one passed by the board, students from Seven Oaks, who attend elementary and middle schools that feed into Arundel High School, would go schools in the Meade High School system.

Bill Church, the redistricting committee chairman, has said that the 12-member group closed some meetings to the public to try to control rumors during discussions about possible boundary changes.

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